Is the pressure to be perfect Christians undermining the church?
“You’re a Christian, right?” a friend asked me recently.
Years ago, I would have given a knee-jerk, “Of course!” However these days, I find myself offering a long explanation, one that lays out my internal conflict with claiming Christianity without sounding like Judas.
I believe in God, pray multiple times daily — for myself and others, and the world at large. I read The Bible occasionally. I work out to a various selection of gospel songs, mostly classics that I was raised listening to or sang—a long time ago — in a church choir. I actually think, “what would Jesus do?” when I debate doing something that I have no business doing. I actively try to correct negative on-goings in my head, because I honestly believe God knows my thoughts. But I intentionally don’t go to church anymore and I’ve actively stopped referring to myself as a “Christian.”
Somewhere along the way, it seems that to some — certainly not all — Christians being Christian became synonymous with being perfect. Last week, Real Housewives of Atlanta co-star Kandi Burruss released her first gospel single, “Stay Prayed Up” featuring gospel great Marvin Sapp and was swiftly derided by other Christians for what they deemed her un-Christian-like ways, including a sex toy business, a racy radio show and speaking openly about having sex with her live-in fiancé. “I knew when I decided to do it that I would be criticized,” Burruss wrote on Instagram. “I believe in God but I have always struggled with the rules of the church, just like a lot of people.”
That same week, NBA player Dwight Howard, also a self-described Christian, took a few verbal jabs for declaring he wanted to “raise the name of God within the league and throughout the world.” Howard is rumored to have as many as five children out-of-wedlock by as many women. Tracey Edmonds, who was once accused of being a mistress of ex- NFL star Deon Saunders (an allegation she swiftly denied), also raised a few eyebrows when she recently announced she would launch a TV network “with Christian values.”
I’m not here to debate whether Burruss or Edmond or Howard are good-Christians or pick apart their alleged shortcomings. Frankly, I have too many of my own to concentrate on rather than harping on those of others. Still, I would like to suggest that people who aren’t perfect should not be derided for professing Christianity. The pressures of being a “perfect” Christian are more likely to turn people away from God than to bring people who are faulty, flawed and trying anyway into the fold. Anybody who has tried to walk with God knows it’s a rocky path where folks fall and stumble all the time. If ministers, pastors and popes — the appointed leaders of Team Christian (after God, of course) — can waiver on the terrain, then certainly their followers can get some extra rope as well.
And it’s not like Christianity doesn’t need the shout out from younger, relevant self-professed Christians. A 2011 Hartford Seminary study on America’s churches found that not only was attendance at Christian churches down across the board, but the pews were increasingly “grey”, i.e., the younger people, me included, have gone missing. However, it does seem like they are listening. Despite all the hoopla, Burruss’s single shot to the number one spot on iTunes’ gospel chart.
If Christians want to maintain relevance among the younger set, it would be helpful if those with holier-than-thou attitudes stopped alienating other flawed members of the flock. It doesn’t make Christians appear more righteous or more perfect; it just serves to silence imperfect people who want to avoid judgment and drives well-intentioned, but flawed sinners away from the church.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk